Learning to compete in the global marketplace can be an intimidating undertaking for the small business owner. But the global game is no longer just for the "big boys." Whether you are a one-person service e-shop or a multi-billion-dollar traditional manufacturing company, going global is a matter of survival.

Where do you start? Begin by adapting the skills, interests and resources you already have. Then, learn about crossing borders the hard way -- by doing it -- but first you must have the basics in place: time, nerve, imagination, capital, energy, knowledge and determination. If you have these, you're halfway up the hill. If you want to reach the top, you implement the following 7-degree action plan to global marketing nirvana.

1. Conduct detailed market research (study business climate) to determine if there is a need for your product or service. This measure will also alert you to possible barriers to entering your target market.

2. Package your product or service so one can see that yours is notably different from that of others. If you think there are no competitors, you didn't research enough. Keep digging.

3. Size your product or service according to the needs of the foreign market. In other words, listen to your customers! If all your customers tell you your offering is too large, then size it to their liking. If you give too many choices, it can also be confusing.

4. Size the market you are entering. Any major advertising agency or market research company in the foreign country where you wish to do business can make market predictions.

5. Participate in industry-wide trade shows. This is a uniquely effective way to contact cross-border customers, especially if you have a difficult product to sell, or a product that a customer needs to actually see. Check with The Department of Commerce to see what they are supporting and look for a listing of exhibitions held in markets worldwide.

6. Know the basics about your product or service when customers inquire and respond swiftly with accurate answers. If it's a product, inform the customer about production capacities, production facilities, product quality, timing of supply, packaging, transportation and price. If it's a service, describe your area of special expertise (for example, a global marketing communications program), clients served, turn-around time, applicable fees, credentials and any other important background information.

7. Visit customers regularly who are involved in your business transactions. Personalize your relationships and be prepared to yield and compromise when needed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laurel Delaney (LaurelDelaney.com) is the founder of GlobeTrade.com and the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog. She can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.